N.C. companies join to bring Internet to all
- By Daniel Keegan
- May 10, 2000
A new agreement between North Carolina officials and the state's three major
communications companies aims to bring high-speed Internet access to the
entire state by 2002.
BellSouth, Sprint and GTE have agreed to work with Internet service providers,
telephone cooperatives, the state government, and others in the industry
in order to reach the goal.
Driving the agreement is the idea that Internet access is crucial to decreasing
the economic disparity between rural and urban areas.
"Affordable, high-speed Internet access is a key competitive factor for
economic development and quality of life in the New Economy of the global
marketplace," the agreement's preamble reads. "In the Digital Age, universal
connectivity at affordable prices is a necessity for business transactions,
education and training, health care, government services and the democratic
Melinda Pierson, the Department of Commerce's public information officer,
said that although the agreement was struck several weeks ago, the details
of how the goal will be reached have not been finished. A nonprofit board
will be established to work out how to reach the goal. That board will include
representatives from the three companies and state and local government
Pierson said that in most areas the companies will pay to build the high-speed
network, but in areas that the companies would lose money, the state would
provide tax incentives or low-interest loans.
The agreement also spelled out six other goals, which the board will implement:
* Provide dial-up access from every phone exchange within one year.
* Establish two pilot Telework Centers in the poorest areas of the state.
The centers, to be established within the next 18 months, will provide computers
and Internet access to residents.
* Provide more residents with computers and Internet devices and subscriptions
throughout the state.
* Provide information regularly to citizens about the availability and future
of telecommunications and Internet services.
* Promote development of electronic government applications.
* Employ "open technology approaches" to encourage potential Internet providers
to provide access without bias.
The agreement began from a recommendation in the Rural Prosperity Task Force
report, presented to Gov. Jim Hunt earlier this year. However, the companies
wanted to approach the issue in another manner, and the agreement was made
with the head of the task force, Erskine Bowles, also the former White House
chief of staff.